Once the concept was proven, Advantic had to rapidly ramp up to produce many polymer panels. This included procuring sufficient capacity in mixing, casting and curing equipment, as well as acquiring a five-foot wide band saw, drill presses and other machining tools. To date, the company has delivered more than 32,000 square feet of panels, all manufactured from ¾-inch to ⅕-inch thick.

The polymer replacement could go into water, waste water and surface transport infrastructure. However, building codes heavily regulate allowable materials. Consequently, it takes time and some ingenuity to get a polymer composite onto the list of acceptable materials. The subway panel project illustrates this challenge. Because the panels are non-load bearing, the danger would be for fire impingement from the side. The tests for concrete that were in place, however, assumed the application was load bearing, and the resistance had to be for fire from above or below.

Fortunately, Lamb’s team found 19 UL tests for composite materials and panel structures for fire impingement from the side. After going through a selection process, the group came up with updated tests for the new material. That process holds a lesson, Lamb says. “You’ve got to look not just at the material and the use of the material, but how it’s being qualified and how the other materials have been qualified. You don’t want to change the game with a new material and not test it properly. But on the other side, you don’t want to change to a new material and have it be subject to old tests that have nothing to do with that material.”